On a grey afternoon in Greenwich, I trundled through a park and struggled up an incline to reach London’s Royal Observatory. I was lured into this physical exertion by the promise of canapés, drinks and sneak peek at Alien: River Of Pain, a new Audible drama that will bridge the gap between Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens.
After taking a second to catch my breath and immortalise the iconic London skyline with a half-arsed smartphone photo, I said my awkward hellos, stashed my belongings in a cloakroom and made my way into the event. As promised, bubbly was flowing and tiny nibbles were being circulated.
Staff carried snacks atop rectangular glass cases, which contained little black rocks. Space-y looking rocks. Needless to say, I was immediately immersed. Was I even on Earth anymore? What far-flung corner of the cosmos was this, where waiters cart around gleaming sci-fi apparatus that looks a bit heavy?
Soon enough, the assembled horde of intrigued humans was ushered into the observatory itself. Drinks were taken away, seats were sat in, and stray thoughts about space rocks were put to one side.
An Audible representative reiterated that we’d gathered to celebrate the launch of River Of Pain, an audio adaptation of a novel by Christopher Golden, starring Philip Glenister, Colin Salmon, Alexander Siddig, Michelle Ryan, William Hope, Marc Warren and Anna Friel. (The last two are playing Newt’s parents.)
The story takes fans back to LV-426 (aka Acheron), the moon explored in Alien. After the loss of the Nostromo, the Weyland-Utani Corporation attempted to terraform and colonise the moon. This is where/when River Of Pain slots in: after Ripley escaped the Xenomorph’s clutches, but before Bill Paxton’s Hudson was sent in to clean up the decimated colony.
Before we could hear the sneak peek, a member of Royal Observatory staff treated us to a tour of the universe, using a circular screen on the ceiling to whirl the stars around and point a few things out. He even showed us where in deep space Acheron is meant to be positioned, which was a very nice touch.
Then the audio began. To start with, it’s a lot of space chatter; brief recaps interspersed with crackling communications. Then we focus in on Ellen Ripley, who’s recounting what she saw on Acheron to Weyland-Utani execs. (This conversation takes place around the same time as the opening of Aliens. Remember when Ripley said she’d been explaining for three hours?)
The teaser then transitioned to a later scene, on Acheron itself, where Newt’s parents are investigating a ginormous derelict spacecraft. Fans of the franchise will know this is an Engineer ship stuffed with Xenomorph eggs, which doesn’t hold any good news for Newt’s folks, but there’s still a thrill to be had in hearing these oblivious characters exploring the ship.
Along with some stellar Foley work, there’s also a neat conceit to bring this segment to life in an audio fashion: the colonists are recording a voice log to send to their corporate overlords. It’s not exactly a revolutionary concept, but this takes a necessary audio drama evil – the characters describing everything in front of them in vivid detail, at the expense of dialogue or genuine reactions – and works it into the story.
As well as this exploration of the ship, which includes some fan-pleasing moments and top-notch voice work, we also got to hear the beginnings of the first proper Xenomorph moment in the drama. And it sounded great, with the scientific log being put aside in favour of grotesque sounds and piercing screams.
Thankfully, there’s no “Oh my god, it’s on my face! What is this thing, it looks like it wants to burrow inside me! Doesn’t it smell like it’s got acid for blood?” Instead, Dirk Maggs (the director of the piece), allows listeners to use their imaginations. Most of us already know what a Facehugger looks like, and we can picture it a lot grislier than five seconds of description could convey.
Judging by that teaser, a lot of thought has gone into crafting this audio drama. The cast are all strong and convincing, and the Foley combines with the score nicely to create a genuinely eerie atmosphere. The script and the direction are tight, ensuring that we get the necessary information where possible, but have to rely on our imaginations to bridge the gaps between blood-curdling screams at other points. Very promising.
River Of Pain’s real test, though, will be whether it can maintain listener interest over five hours (we only heard about 20 minutes of it), when we already know a lot of what’s going to happen. Will it be one for the hardcore fans only, or a gateway audio drama to get loads of new listeners intrigued by the medium? We’ll have to wait and see…
Alien: River Of Pain is out now. You can pick it up by clicking here.